Palm Island: demanding a way forward

The lack of legal or government action over the death of Mulrunji in police custody on Palm Island is a watershed moment. It has brought home very starkly the inequality faced by Indigenous people in Queensland and the fact that the political and legal systems do not deliver justice for them – indeed it often delivers the opposite.

The starkness of this tragedy and injustice also provides a big opportunity – a recognition that things simply cannot go as they are. To make the most of this opportunity, it is important that public attention and pressure is maintained.

There are peaceful rallies and marches planned tomorrow (Wednesday) in both Brisbane and Townsville.

  • The Brisbane event is from 12 noon at Queens Park (Corner of George & Elizabeth Streets, opposite the casino) to march on state parliament.
  • The Townsville rally starts from 10.15 am from Central park, opposite Dean Park in the City heart.

There is a prospect for fresh start here, but it will need a change in priorities and attitudes from politicians, governments, the mass media and other social institutions. Despite statements by various politicians to the contrary over the years, there are many capable people and leaders in the Palm Island community who are looking for change and who have the capability to make it happen if they are given the chance. This story by John Andersen in today’s Townsville Bulletin gives some indication of what the Island community wants.

Premier Peter Beattie will be on Palm Island tommorow, as will National ALP President Warren Mundine. I haven’t agreed with much the Premier has said over the last few days, and his past form in this area makes me sceptical about his approach this time. However, he is right to say that “There are two issues – one relates to Mulrinji and the Doomadgee family, and the second relates to the future of Palm Island.” Whilst justice regarding the death in custody is important, the focus on this should not be so intense as to obscure the wider issue of overturning a century of discrimination, explotation, neglect and injustice for Palm Island people.

This situation is tragic, but it is also provides a real chance for a circuit breaker. However, it will need strong and wise politcal leadership, rather than a focus on short-term media management. If the wider community indicates this is something we demand, it will dramatically increase the chances of genuine change. If not, it risks being just another short-term controversy, where the political will fades as soon as the media spotlight does, with Palm Islanders left facing the same barriers and impediments that have been put in their way over the years, and the rest of us sadly shaking our heads and saying ‘something should be done about it.’

As Col Dillon, the widely respected Aboriginal former Police Officer, said in resigning yesterday from the Queensland Public Service, ‘I don’t see the government will be doing anything in the future – it has done very little in the past.’

This matches the view Noel Pearson expressed a couple of months ago that “In eight years the Beattie Government has not done one credible thing to ensure a better life for the children of Palm Island”.

It will need continuing pressure on governments from the wider non-indigenous community for this to change. Now is as good a time as any to start that pressure building.

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    The petition is in response to the DPP’s incredible decision to ignore the Deputy Coroners findings that police were responsible for Mulrinji’s death, and to accept that Mulrinji “fell” (getting 4 broken ribs and a liver split in two through the “fall”) .

    It is now available online. Please immediately sign the petition online

    Please send this to any and every supporter of justice in the lead-up to Wednesday’s rally. We need as much public pressure as possible to reverse this disgusting decision which devalues every Aboriginal life, and ultimately, every human being.

    For any further information, call Sam Watson on 0401 227 443

  2. I have just read about the Queensland Ombudsman report on Coronial enquiries,it appears a disgrace.Swashbuckler Beattie the Lawyer looks like Erroll Flynn, he will buzz around for the sake of the buzz,and see you in the imagery…but in real life drunk as only power can let you be- the fleeting ghost of ones own performance.

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  4. It is essential at this point in time to focus on the DPP decison as it is a very clear cut and high profile example of injustice – just as the stolen wages issue is

    The snowballing anger at this situation may well force some serious changes

    However it is important not to get obsessed by these flash points as they are just the tip of the iceberg that breaks through to white consciousness

    Police brutality and harrasment is a daily reality in all Aboriginal communities not just Palm Island – but this is invisible to white society – not in the headlines

    There is a broad spectrum of injustice on many issues such as housing employment and training family violence and poverty as well as police racism that all intertwine to create modern Aboriginal life

    We must understand history to understand how we got to this point – invasion genocide and colonisation

    But simply getting a better understanding of the nature of Aboriginal oppression will – of itself – achieve nothing except our own edification

    We must use the high profile flashpoints to force change in real terms accross the broad spectrum – -wholistic change

    This means promoting specific action plans for change such as the cell visitor and night patrol that has been set up on Palm Island

    or housing programs to alleviate over crowding – still a festering problem on Palm Is

    or mental health programs and job creation programs to assist people to rise out of structural depression

    And domestic violence programs that do more than apply bandaids after the fact or distribute sloganistic advertising material

    Solving these problems means more than simply protesting about the flash points until the next sensational headline occurs

    The question is can we be motivated by the pain and sadness and anger to do something positive?

    protesting or writing more useless reports is just detatched commentary – but many delude themselves that these things are of themselves a strategy for change

  5. Even John Howard is better than Peter Beattie

    Despite a massive state housing bureacracy on and around Palm Island the only major housing project on Palm Island in the last 10 years was undertaken by the army

  6. Do not forget that the DPP have similarly recently refused to a charge Mt Isa Policeman who assaulted an intelectually disabled Aboriginal man

    And a Townsville court – after a survey was commissioned – has ruled that Aboriginal People are unable to get a fair trial by Jury in Townsville because of widespread community racism and the charges following the riot on Palm Island have been moved to Brisbane

    And the other non-prosecutions or light sentences from Townsville courts when white people have killed Aborigines

    It has been alleged that even the Townsville Mayor Tony Mooney was responsible for a hit and run incident with an Aboriginal victim

  7. I am now ashamed to be a senior queensland public servant, witnessed too much for too long. We as a Government are boasting about how we have made a difference post the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommendations – lets get real!

  8. Deb
    I mean no offence and please do not misinterpret these comments as aimed at you

    but your post triggered the following

    Since the DPP made its decision there has been an outcry from some very powerful people in different areas such as cops – senior bureacrats – politicians and media personalities

    But the situation today is the same as before the DPP decision which is the same as before this particular death in custody which was the same as before the Royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody

    Why has it taken all these powerful people from the elite of non-Aboriginal society up until now to become outraged at what is essentially routine police procedure in policing Aboriginal people?

    It is the racism of the police and whole legal system that is the primary cause of the over representation of Aboriginal people in prison – the most imprisoned cultural group in the world per capita

    When will all the powerfull people who are presently so outraged actually use their priveledge and power in white society to make changes?

    At present they use their power administrating the status quo of white society and at best might make an angry media statement in their lunchbreak

    What is needed to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody is structural change

    Who has power in this society to effect structural change?

    Aborigines? from a base of disposession and poverty?

    Or all these powerful people who have been so disturbed by their sudden realisation of what a racist society we live in?

  9. There are many people in the state bureacracy that can see that Aboriginal affairs in Qld is a disaster and are prepared to say so

    Such as at least some of the Author’s of a Premiers department review into the process of implementing Queensland Grog laws as they were being implemented – Hidden amongst meaningless verbage of the report is an analysis that the bureacracy didn’t know what it was doing and predictably enough had done nothing except cause a minor worsening of the situation

    The following link (I have put up before) is a review of the report including some quotes from the report but the report itself has since been buried and there appears to be no link to it

    Despite public servants telling the truth in a report produced by the Premiers department the publicity focussed on the only – much written about – positive in the report which was the premier and cabinet having effectively articulated the policy direction to the Qld community

    Then they imposed the grog laws on Palm Island providing the capacity for Chris Hurley to arrest Mulrunji

    A rare display of non-partisan unity was seen with the Qld parliamentary standing committee on Palm Island which consulted properly and developed a very good action plan for Palm Island which now sits on a bookshelf somewhere and has been ignored

    And all the politicians have forgotten it as yesterday’s news

    The Premiers department’s Indigenous Womens task force on community violence produced a very good plan but it was rejected and the premier got Tony Fitzgerald to draw up another plan laying the basis of the grog laws – which defy to the core the recomendations of the Royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody

  10. quotable quotes from the Qld Premier’s dept

    from the the above mentioned review of the grog laws before Beattie’s high profile fast-tracking of their implementation as the salvation of Aboriginal communities

    “The Plan is a disordered aggregation of strategies, activities, products and lower order tasks”

    “There is little indication from the community case studies that the alcohol supply focussed MCMC policy was having a significant effect”

    “The progress on family violence issues was limited and was not driven by a strategic or coordinated effort under MCMC”

    “It is clear that current approaches are not resulting in significantly improved outcomes”.

    “A series of adverse impacts of the Alcohol Management Plans were noted by all of the communities. The strong consistent perception in all the communities related to the futility of a supply solution without first addressing the demand issues and setting up processes for coping with unintended consequences of the legislation.”

    “The evaluation also found no evidence of a structured change management process for working with agencies within Government.”

    “It appears that there was inadequate investment in program design and change management planning”.

    “The community case studies found that there appeared to be a conceptual confusion within Government about basis of ‘governance’ as it applies to Indigenous communities”

  11. I dont know what will generaet strucutural change John – I doubt anythign will to be honest as the strucutre probably doesnt see the need to change or want to.

    One thing I do think however is that, and dont get me wrong unfortunately, after watching the various news channels last night, the wider bulk of the population is not going to be engaged at all if the ebst that can be done is a series of wild eyed unimpressive looking people screaming down microphones and mindless chanting is the best that can be offered to engage the public.

    In my view, all the sensible talk from Mundine and Pearson was lost completely when the fringe took all the publicity, particualy the screaming effrot outside the NSW Parliament which would have effectiely killed any inteerst in the wdier population.

  12. Ken

    I suspect “wild eyed unimpressive looking people screaming down microphones and mindless chanting” is a natural and legitimate expression of anger from desperate people pushed to the edge

    However I agree that this of itself will not bring change except perhaps simply forcing a review of the DPP decision

    I also agree that the system doesn’t see the need to change – this was my point about all the politicians and bureacrats that have condemned the DPP but continue to administer the very system causing the problems

    This is why I spoke of the grog laws review and the Qld select committee on Palm Island saying good things and doing nothing

    If all the outraged people think they can simply demand that structures change they will be surely dissappointed

    Somebody actually has to make the changes -do the hard work of making it happen – and we know for sure the government from Beattie down to the pen-pushers and their reports -whatever the content of the reports – have absolutely no capacity for structural change

    So something new must happen with organisation and links outside of the structures of government – to force or circumvent the government

    this means independent political organising and independent funding of action through private donations

    I would love to say that Australians for Native title and reconciliation (ANTAR) could be the base for such organisation but they have proven themselves to be half hearted and impotent

    In Qld members of various unions connected to the ALP have managed to water down ANTAR’s activities to the point that it has no capacity to force change in the governemt even on its high profile stolen wages campaign

    ANTAR is just part of the multitude of concerned white Australians who make commentary about what others are doing

    As long as concerned Australians remain in personal outrage mode and fail to move into political action mode then the body count in this war will continue whether the DPP decision is reviewed or not

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